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GUEST COMMENT The tale of innovation and the low-hanging fruit

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The low-hanging fruit of multichannel optimisation is fast being harvested. How long before the harvest is done and real step change is necessary to drive conversion, with the much bandied ‘innovation’ being the genuine differentiator propelling leading brands. Yes, retailers need to see off the basics before they can innovate but innovation is just a word. Each progression in ecommerce, multichannel, omnichannel is an iterative development and innovation on some scale. It’s the semantics of the thing that creates confusion.

I’m going to tell you a story. Not the fairytale kind – this one’s factual and somewhat validated by Internet Retailing’s own recent IRUK 500 research. Once upon a time it was OK for ecommerce directors and the like to shout in the various trade mags about their latest digital innovation: zoom, 3D discovery, mobile perhaps, customer reviews, improved delivery options. Rightly so, these things were and are innovations. Often bolt-ons, plugins – badly implemented and sometimes not strategically of relevance but innovative nonetheless.

Soon customer-centricity was recognised as a call to arms, changing business models and processes to meet the requirements of consumer and not the vanity of the brand and internal stakeholders. UX became CX, semantics informing and changing the basis of our ever-evolving industry language and spin.

“Customer experience (CX) is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier”

Source: Wikipedia

Then came the advent of the joined-up approach, the multichannel conundrum, the omnichannel director and the omnipresent needs of the consumer with mobile being the lynchpin and facilitator of this rapid change. The perceived, or at least widely publicised tipping point was in 2014 when ubiquitous smartphone usage created an environ where more than 50% of visits to ecommerce sites were from a mobile device. The consumer had outpaced the brands. The emergent trend was there before of course, but it oftentimes takes a nice bold stat and a big headline to drive the point home.

“Some 52% of traffic to ecommerce sites came from smartphones or tablet devices in the second quarter of this year, according to the IMRG Capgemini Quarterly Benchmarking Report.”


Taken at Russell Davies’ talk at the 2014 Festival of Marketing

Returning to retail – what does the landscape look like? More complex for sure. The myriad of opportunities across personalisation, location-based services, loyalty, in-store tech and social make it hard to assess where how and why to innovate. But the same approach always applies: no matter what the sector, get the basics right first. If you haven’t got a robust platform for growth then you’ll fall short of customer expectation at the first hurdle.

Some brands are struggling with this first piece of getting the basics down, languishing due to inertia around resolving core business decisions and objectives. This is why the word ‘transformation’ currently permeates every conversation and conference: “Where are you in your transformational journey?”

You need to sort out your internal wrangling before you can get things done. You need a strong empowered personality at the helm and an organisation wide understanding of why you’re doing what you are and what you want to achieve.

The fabled land of a single customer view and curating a holistic omnichannel experience is attainable – it’s simply that certain businesses are better geared up to achieve it quicker than others.

“A single customer view is an aggregated, consistent and holistic representation of the data known by an organisation about its customers.”

Source: Wikipedia

Forward-thinking strategy and a means to innovate, customer-centricity as a focus, an operational infrastructure in place to deliver, great product discovery, 24hr access to brand, channels optimised, a robust testing plan in place, R&D to inform your roadmap, board level understanding and buy-in. It doesn’t matter where you are in your *cough* transformation, these things are known goals you can aim for. Low hanging fruit.

Internet Retailing’s Top 500 benchmarking criteria are as follows:

1 Strategy and innovation

2 Customer

3 Operations and logistics

4 Merchandising

5 Brand and engagement

6 Mobile and cross-channel

So what are the likes of Internet Retailing’s exulted ‘Elite’ looking to next? What differentiates them from the crowd and helps them adapt and navigate through the emerging landscape? Speed. Agility. If you know what needs to be done as a senior stakeholder then you need to enable your business to do it and put in place frameworks to deliver efficiently. Hence the rise of the in-house innovations lab. Something we at JOYLAB wholly promote and deliver on behalf of our clients, having authored a best-practice guide for Econsultancy on the subject. Check out an example of lab process below:

Source: Nordstrom’s Youtube channel

Four out of the top five in Internet Retailing’s Top 500 have in-house labs to bake new ideas. Amazon UK, Argos, M&S, John Lewis embrace rapidity, agile practices and lean startup methodologies to quickly assess and test new ideas to market, using a fail-fast approach and an organisation-wide understanding of what that means. If you’re rocking these things then you’re going to succeed. Yes if you need to fix the basics then get to it and do it quickly. Because if you’re not offering what your customers want, you need to change that – and if you don’t do it quickly somebody else will take your place.

Eventually there’ll be no low-hanging fruit and what seems like innovation today will be what gives your competitors the edge. Find a way to drive innovation projects through the business and fast.

Kieran McBride is co-founder of JOYLAB

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